Home Networking And IT Information And Discussion

Articles about home, SOHO and small-business IT and networking issues

Quick “extended service set” setup routines for WiFi access points

Why a quick setup routine for WiFi access points (or client devices capable of operating as access points)?

It makes it simple for one to extend or improve wireless coverage by adding access points to an existing “extended service set” with a wired backbone. This includes mitigating microwave-oven interference to computer equipment being used in the kitchen by using an access point tuned to Channel 1 installed there. Increasingly this functionality will become more relevant with WiFi-based VoIP cordless phones and come in to its own with location-based WiFi security and home-automation applications. It will also allow a device with built-in Ethernet or HomePlug network connectivity as well as a WiFi client functionality (which typically covers most WiFi-enabled devices) to become a low-power WiFi access point thus making it easy to expand the wireless network by providing infill coverage.

This is achieved by enrolling the device as a client device of the wireless network, then if the device is connected to the same Internet gateway that is visited by the wireless network via the wired network, it sets itself up as an access point with the same SSID and security data as the master access point. It then avoids users having to re-enter network data and make mistakes in setting up multiple-access-point wireless networks.

Methods

Semi-automatic operation – without WPS on master AP

  1. User: Connect to new AP via Ethernet or HomePlug
  2. User: At Web UI for new access point:
    1. Select AP – quick setup
  3. New Access Point: AP becomes wireless client bridge, direct link to host
  4. New Access Point: AP presents list of SSIDs that it can receive and their security status (open or secure)
  5. User: Clicks on SSID matching their home network’s SSID or enters home network’s SSID (for hidden SSID networks), then enters WEP/WPA-PSK key as applicable when the new AP locks on to the desired AP
  6. New Access Point: Perform DHCP test to see if it can find the gateway
    1. If successful, offer to set up as AP, gain MAC of gateway & BSSID of master (& other) APs on SSID,set WEP/WPA-PSK parameter
  7. New Access Point: If user OKs with setting up as AP for network, then switch to AP mode, self-tune to vacant frequency, remain dormant
  8. New Access Point: Once gateway is discovered through Ethernet / HomePlug interface (backbone detect), activate AP mode.

Automatic operation – with WPS on master AP

  1. User: Select Access Point mode, then invoke WPS on new and master AP (PBC “push-push” method)
  2. New Access Point: new AP gains WiFi details through WPS as if it is a client
  3. New Access Point: become wireless client bridge on these details until connected to wired backbone
  4. New Access Point: detect wired backbone (via Ethernet, HomePlug), self-tune, become AP with WPS “peer” status

Limitations

Some details may not be able to be conveyed to the new access point, especially if the access point is of lesser capability than the master access point. This may be of concern when extending the coverage of a wireless hotspot and want to enforce client-computer isolation at the access point. The client-computer isolation functionality should be achieved at the link-layer level by the hotspot gateway router thus allowing for media-independent client isolation. It can then cater for hotspots that use wired media (Ethernet, HomePlug, MoCA TV-aerial cabling) to extend WiFi coverage or connect computers supplied by themselves or their guests to their Internet service.

Similarly there may be issues with setting up a multi-LAN wireless network where there is a VLAN set up on the wired network and multiple SSIDs that are radiated by the same access point. This kind of setup describes a “private” LAN segment and a “public” or “guest” LAN segment

Conclusion

Once the WiFi equipment vendors look at using “quick-setup” methods for WiFi access points, this can allow home and small-business users, especially those with limited computer skills, to set up their wireless networks to suit their needs more easily.

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18 August 2009 Posted by | Wireless Networking | , | 3 Comments

SmallNetBuilder – Small Network Help – 802.11n Headed for September Ratification

 SmallNetBuilder – Small Network Help – 802.11n Headed for September Ratification

Cited text from SmallNetBuilder article

SmallNetBuilder has learned from a reliable source that the final issues in 802.11n have been resolved in this week’s meeting of the IEEE TGn in Montreal.

The draft standard is now expected to successfully pass through the final steps required for a ratification as a final standard in September. This is four months earlier than the currently published January 2010 date.

The key issue holding up the standard has been the mechanisms to be used to prevent interference between 802.11n and Bluetooth devices.

My Comments on this stage for 802.11n

Once this standard is ratified, most of us can now buy 802.11n-compliant wireless-network hardware while being sure it will work with other manufacturers’ equipment.

But the main issue with this ratification is whether most hardware manufacturers will roll out firmware for existing draft-specification 802.11n hardware that is in the field. This is of importance whenever newer final-specification hardware is deployed, because there could be compatibility issues between the different versions of the standard.

A good step to go about this is to go to manufacturers’ Websites and look for upgrade packages for any 802.11n hardware. In the case of laptops, use the laptop manufacturer’s Website or “quick-update” routine to check for updates for the wireless-network subsystem. If you run an “n-box” or other equipment serviced by your Internet service provider, check with the provider if there is new firmware in the pipeline for the hardware. This may be dependent on whether the device’s manufacturer is rolling out compatible firmware for provider-distributed devices.

In some cases, you may need to run your 802.11n wireless network segment on a “mixed” setup which observes best compatibility with 802.11g devices even if the segment is running only with “n” devices.

6 June 2009 Posted by | Wireless Networking | , | Leave a comment

Use of WiFi technology for safety and security

Ekahau Enhances Staff Safety of Hospital Psychiatric Wards

My comments on this issue

The Ekahau press release that is linked to from this article details the use of a WiFi-based staff badge that can be used to locate particular staff members in the hospital’s psychiatric ward and deliver messages to them.  But the feature that drew me to this device was the remote panic-alarm functionality that sends its signal via the hospital’s WiFi network.

Any panic-alarm or medical-alert system that is deployed in the home typically requires a transmitter and receiver working on a dedicated frequency, in a similar manner to garage-door openers.  If they are monitored by an external agency, the devices then transmit their alert signal to the monitoring station via a dedicated telephone or cellular circuit.

Now there is a different reality being brought about with cost-effective Internet service provided to WiFi-based wireless home networks in many households. This has included the concept of providing telephone and multi-channel television service through the same pipe, all thanks to the magic of IP-based packet networks. The classic circuit-based signalling methods used by these alarm devices are becoming less relevant in the packet-based signalling. Similarly, most users will want to benefit from the infrastructure that is laid down in a home network, such as the establishment of a multi-access-point WiFi network with a HomePlug-based backbone to cover a difficult house.

The Ekahau setup could be scaled back to allow an alarm installer or broadband Internet provider to sell a similar system in to the home. Any moveable sensor like a medical-alert pendant could make use of the existing WiFi network for transferring its data to the monitoring facility. It could then lead to e-mail and / or text (SMS) messaging if the device is triggered. Similarly, the unit could be used to deal with “wandering” behaviour that can be part of dementia-related illnesses by alerting if the person goes out of range of the WiFi network. As well, such systems could support local monitoring through the use of a local server device, thus providing their output through a Web page, platform-specific “widget” or desktop application.

This setup may appeal to broadband providers who want to gain more “average revenue per unit” by reselling basic security services as part of their package. It could also be a way of achieving a legitimate upgrade path for currently-deployed building security systems, especially in the context of the “switched-on” Internet-enabled home.

21 May 2009 Posted by | Home automation and security, Wireless Networking | , , | Leave a comment

Bluetooth 3.0 with High Speed Transfer – What does this mean?

Bluetooth Special Interest Group press release

WiFi Planet article on Bluetooth 3.0

My Comments

Bluetooth has hit the “big 3” by introducing a high-throughput version of its wireless personal network specification. This same technology used for sending pictures or phone-number data between mobile phones in the same space or streaming sound between mobile phones and car handsfree kits can do such things as wirelessly transferring one’s music library between a laptop computer and an MP3 player or “dumping” the contents of a digital camera to a computer.

It primarily allows data streams conforming to the Bluetooth protocols to be transmitted over the 802.11b/g WiFi network just by using the media-transfer levels of that specification. This takes advantage of the fact that a lot of the smartphones and the laptop computers have Bluetooth and WiFi wireless technology built in to them; and that premium MP3 players like the Apple iPod Touch will offer WiFi and Bluetooth on the same device. This is a situation that will become more common as chip manufacturers develop “all-in-one” WiFi / Bluetooth radio chipsets. For applications requiring a small data stream, the device just engages a single Bluetooth transceiver with the regular Bluetooth stack, which can save on battery power.

Intel had developed “My WiFi” which is a competing standard for a personal area network based on the WiFi technology with the devices using the full list of protocols and standards applicable to regular LAN applications. The idea was to have the laptop “split” its wireless-network ability into a client for a WiFi LAN and a very-low-power access point for a WiFi LAN which is the personal area network. At the moment, this technology is limited to laptops based on the Centrino 2 platform and requires that the laptop, being a general-purpose computer, becomes a “hub” device for the personal area network. But what could happen could be that other WiFi chipset vendors would license this technology and implement it into their designs, which could extend it towards other applications.

This would lead to a highly-competitive space for technologies that connect the wireless personal area network together, especially if the primary device of the network is a laptop computer. It could also incite manufacturers of devices like digital still and video cameras to include WiFi and Bluetooth in to these devices.

Who knows what the future will hold for the wireless personal area network.

23 April 2009 Posted by | Mobile Computing, Wireless Networking | , , | Leave a comment

WiFi tops poll for best technological innovation of last decade – Telegraph

 

WiFi tops poll for best technological innovation of last decade – Telegraph

What has WiFi been about especially for the home IT environment?

One major way WiFi has benefited the home IT environment is the increased sale of laptop computers (http://www.australianit.news.com.au/story/0,24897,24851973-15306,00.html?referrer=email) over desktop computers. This typically would manifest in a home computing environment consisting of one or more laptop computers that have built-in WiFi wireless ability. The network – Internet “edge” device in this environment would be a wireless router that brings the Internet to these laptops via WiFi wireless. In some countries, the standard provider-supplied “customer premises equipment” for Internet service would be equipped with WiFi wireless capability.

Increasingly, nearly every printer manufacturer is running at least one residential-tier multi-function printer equipped with network ability, typically with WiFi network access. This means that the printer can be located in one position wherever the user desires and print documents from their laptop. There also is the increasing number of “Internet radios” or “i-Radios” that use WiFi to bring Internet radio streams to the speakers in these sets.

This may not be strictly a home-IT environment issue but the number of “hotspots” and “hotzones” that are part of public places is now increasing. These WiFi-based public networks are allowing for anywhere computing.

This has also caused most current-model mobile phones and PDA devices to be equipped with WiFi wireless thus allowing for cost-effective portable Web browsing and, increasingly, DLNA-driven music management and playback. These phones will eventually lead to WiFi being another mobile-telephone network usually in the form of fixed-mobile communications for example.

There have been attempts to “kill the goose that laid the golden egg” by limiting WiFi or making it unpopular. It has mainly been based on the “electromagnetic waves being dangerous to people” theory being propagated as part of junk science, but real scientific tests have proven that the RF emissions yielded by typical WiFi and Bluetooth setups none or very little detrimental effect on people.

Even without this article, I would certainly agree that WiFi has become an important computer technology for all IT scenarios.

29 December 2008 Posted by | Internet Access And Service, Mobile Computing, Wireless Networking | | Leave a comment

802.11r – the new wireless-networking standard

In August-September 2008, there has been a fair bit of talk in the IT press about the new IEEE 802.11r standard for wireless networks. It isn’t a new waveband or transmission standard for these networks.

Instead it is an improved method of handling the “handover” procedure when a wireless-network client moves between two access points in a multi-access-point network. The idea behind this is to make the handover process hard to notice if you are using a multimedia service which works with streamed audio or video like VoIP or audio / video streaming. The same feature will also benefit multi-machine multi-player gaming such as Internet-hosted online gaming because everything that is part of the game is kept in sync, thus making sure that you can “frag” the opponent there and then. With current technology, if you move between different access points while using a multimedia service, you will notice an obvious “glitch” because of the requirement to re-associate with the network when in the new access point’s area.

The improvement is based on a “work-ahead” procedure where the client will log in with access points of the same “extended service set” while utilising the current access point. Then it will “switch over” to whichever access point has the best signal, thus avoiding unnecessary glitches.

The main issue with this technology, like any new standard being introduced, is how it can work with existing networks and equipment. As well, there is the issue of an upgrade path for existing equipment. In the first situation, would 802.11r-based clients be able to achieve the fast handover with wireless networks that work with current technology and would 802.11r-based access points work with existing WiFi clients. This also includes wireless networks where some access points may be 802.11r-enabled and some may be on existing technology. This would typify operating environments where a gradual roll-out is implemented because there will be an initial price premium for newer equipment being equipped with 802.11r and it would still wouldn’t be cost-effective to replace all access points at the same time. This brings me to what will be discussed in the next paragraph regarding existing equipment.

The second situation would determine what is needed to be done to an existing network to roll out the new technology. Could this be achieved through a firmware or software upgrade on existing equipment or would it require totally-new equipment to be deployed? This issue would be very pertinent when it comes to small wireless networks where one of the access points is built in to a wireless router that is on the network-Internet edge. It also would encompass most outdoor access points and, of course, those HomePlug-based wireless access points like the Netcomm NP-290W / Solwise PL-85PEW which I have mentioned about in this blog.

This issue may not be exposed in the small-network space because the typical small wireless network is based around only one access point — the one built in to the router at the network’s “edge”. But as I have mentioned in this blog about setting up multi-access-point wireless networks which have an Ethernet or HomePlug wired backbone as a way of extending the wireless network or conquering wireless-network reception difficulties, the issue of the 802.11r “fast-handover” technology will have to be exposed to this class of network. This is important if the network is being used for VoIP, streamed IP-based multimedia or online-gaming “frag-fests”.

28 November 2008 Posted by | Wireless Networking | , | Leave a comment